It Takes A Community To Teach A Machine

AI is powerful, but it needs people to keep using it to become meaningful. Machines need to learn from us, but do we know how to teach them?

Future of Work

Machines Need To Learn From Us, But Do We Know How To Teach Them?


In a world undergoing major transformational shifts as a result of artificial intelligence (AI), it’s easy to see why conversations tend to center around topics like data and algorithms – without these technical components, AI couldn’t exist. However, as is clear in the phrase ‘machine-learning’, AI cannot work at its optimum without being taught. To learn and to teach are different sides of the same coin. AI needs to learn from people in order to optimally function and become better. We’re quickly moving from a relationship with technology that is based on ‘input equals output’ to one where human-machine relationships are based on a more meaningful kind of reciprocity.

Humans must want to teach the machines by engaging with them again and again… and again. In this way, AI can better serve a person’s needs and we can start to move beyond clumsy recommendation engines to something more meaningful. The phenomenon of humans teaching machines will impact everyone but today I’m going to briefly discuss two key groups of people: your employees, and your customers.

If AI is Your Next Hire, What Does That Mean for Your Human Employees?

AI is being integrated into the workplace at tremendous pace. From productivity and CRM tools to marketing products like social listening platforms. While this kind of software seems rather innocuous at first, if not rolled out in a business in a human-centered way, it has the potential to change working habits for the worse. Freed up of extra time, employees may experience feelings of displacement, anxiety and/or boredom.

Anxiety may cause employees looking elsewhere for roles because they think their position is up for grabs by a smart agent. Feelings of displacement and boredom may lead to becoming disconnected from your work which is now connected to AI, which really, really needs you to continue to be engaged and working in order to learn from you.

Teaching your employees about how to integrate AI technology into their working lives is a hugely important piece of the digital transformation puzzle. In the same way as you would spend effort integrating teams that benefit from working together, so too you need to integrate your Human team with your growing AI team. New research from Goldsmiths shows that augmenting human and AI work forces rather than simply introducing AI to your human workforce, can lead to improved team well-being, more engaged employees and freeing up human talent from repetitive work. What would you love your teams to do if they had an extra 60 – 90 minutes every day? The page is blank and it’s all yours to fill in.

AI Needs Your Customers to Come Back, But They’ve Found Someone New

In case you didn’t get the memo on loyalty, I have some pretty devastating news for you; “loyalty is dead”. Customers have lots and lots of choice and naturally, are curious about new products and services or simply desire to want to try something new. Human needs change all the time. This sets up a tricky conundrum. How do businesses work around the loyalty challenge in a world where AI needs repeat engagement in order to provide an ever-more personal and meaningful experience?

In 2016 while working on a whitepaper for Adobe titled The Future Of Experience, I interviewed John V Willshire, founder of the Smithery, about how emerging technology is changing the kinds of experiences that people can have with a brand. When I asked John what makes a great experience he said something incredibly memorable; all great experiences have the “I want to do it again!” factor.

Looking back on the data from this research project, when asked what the difference is between a good experience and a great one, nearly all the subject matter experts I interviewed mentioned the importance of human interaction, engagement and the fact that great experiences are memorable because they are deeply emotional in nature.

Every research participant in the study, regardless of which technology they used (wearables, AI, VR, AR and IoT), described at some point how it could allow them to reach their full potential as a person; from becoming more creative, to increasing their curiosity in the world, connecting more intimately with others and even supporting and actualising their philanthropic wishes.

Emerging tech like AI needs to be built around I-want-to-do-it-again experiences that  focus on providing helpful, practical, personal and progressive moments and opportunities in order to encourage repeat engagement. These four factors come back to an existing discussion point, empathy. Taking a meaningful, needs-based approach to design and creation of experiences that promote positive, transformational effects in someone’s life is paramount to successful human-AI design.

And Yet, If We Don’t Have Trust…

This technology is powerful, but to experience the full range of benefits of what it can do requires people to keep using it. We have to ensure that amongst all the crazy of being the ‘first to market’ or ‘gaining access to exclusive data’ that we nurture trust with the public. Because if we don’t have trust, well then all of this starts to fall apart at the seams. No one wants to spend time with anyone or anything that it doesn’t trust.

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